Mount Vernon – Janice Duarte, a Democratic candidate for Mount Vernon City Council, filed a complaint Thursday in State Supreme Court in Westchester County, asserting that Samuel L. Rivers has embarked on an aggressive campaign to attack and defame the reputation of Duarte and her family with libelous, slanderous and false allegations. The complaint seeks $20 million in damages.
The complaint alleges that Mr. Rivers, a political operative in Mt. Vernon, has been sending these defamatory attacks since early June – and as recently as yesterday – to thousands of Mt. Vernon residents and voters through Facebook posts, YouTube videos, E-mail blasts and robo calls. After taking a measured approach to Rivers’ actions – including giving him the opportunity to bring his slanderous attacks to an immediate halt – Duarte met with her family and decided to retain attorney Anthony Dougherty, of the New York City firm Tarter Krinsky & Drogin, to represent her in the court filing.
Duarte proceeded with the defamation suit after Mr. Rivers failed to comply with a July 20, 2017 formal letter demanding that he cease and desist targeting her and her family with repeated and deliberate defamatory and humiliating vitriol.
“I provided Mr. Rivers with ample time and opportunity to comply with the reasonable demands of a cease and desist order and a public apology for his libelous offensive against me and my family,” said Duarte, whose family’s Mt. Vernon roots span three generations.
But as recently as yesterday, July 26, 2017, Mr. Rivers [and the other defendants], through E-mail blasts and Facebook posts, continued their slanderous and false allegations and libelous campaign against Duarte and her family – stating that the “Dirty Duarte’s are at it again,” more specifically, according to the court papers, “[Rivers and the other defendants made] false and disparaging statement[s] that [Duarte] is ‘sleeping with’ the committee chairman, ‘loves her chocolate men’ and ‘would do anything to become a City Councilwoman.’
In early June, around the same time that Duarte won the endorsement of the Mt. Vernon Democratic Committee, Mr. Rivers and the other defendants began to make unsubstantiated false claims that Duarte engaged in salacious and illicit activities in exchange for the endorsement of the Mt. Vernon Democratic Party.
In addition to his own networks, the complaint says that Mr. Rivers has orchestrated this campaign of libelous and false assertions through other defendants named in the complaint – defendants that he controls or influences, including Democrats for a Better Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon Exposed, and others.
The lawsuit states that, “In one shocking post to Facebook, [Rivers and the other] defendants even had the temerity to maliciously assert the false statement that [Duarte] had ‘exchanged … sexual favors’ with the committee chairman to receive the … endorsement as a candidate for the City Council. This… is false and defamatory on its face, inflicting reputational harm on [Duarte], exposing [her] to public contempt, ridicule, aversion, disgrace and tending to induce an evil opinion of [her]…”
The complaint further states, “… [Rivers and the other] defendants falsely alleged… that among other things, [Duarte] ‘lined the pockets’ and ‘cut deals’ with politicians and private businesses in order to receive the endorsement of the Mount Vernon Democratic City Committee…”
The lawsuit says, “These statements are defamatory, factually false, published by [Rivers and the other] defendants with actual malice and are damaging, and therefore constitute actionable libel for which [Rivers and the other] defendants should be held liable. [Rivers and the other] defendants’ libelous social media postings, e-mail communications and telephone calls to the voters of the City of Mount Vernon went far beyond what even rough politics can countenance.”
Duarte had instructed her attorney to make every attempt to reach out to Rivers before filing the defamation suit, but Rivers only intensified his slanderous campaign against her and her family and responded to Dougherty’s emails, according to the court papers, with the following:
“Given his total disregard for the truth and his willingness to defame and slander, this defamation suit will satisfy a very personal and profound sense of right and wrong – and, as a result, will drive an important message that impacts more than just the parties in this case,” she continued. “More specifically, the fear of being subjected to defamatory remarks often drives passionate citizens from political participation – inflicting a deep and negative impact on our democracy and the outcomes in our City.
“I am a fighter – which is why I am seeking elected office so that I can protect the citizens of Mt. Vernon and advocate for their needs. I could not continue to allow an orchestrated attack designed to defame my reputation and the work I have done in the community,” added Duarte – work that has included helping small businesses grow and provide jobs, supporting youth development initiatives, and raising funds to support a mobile food pantry and scholarships for students in need.
She also added: “These kinds of false attacks are a big part of what has kept women out of politics, and my desire to serve our City far outstrips any fear of dealing with erroneous accusations. This lawsuit is a step toward defending all women’s rights to participate in politics without fear of defamation based on their gender. My pact with the voters of Mount Vernon is to restore dignity to the political discourse so that we can focus on the work of the people, set aside politics and work together for our families and the betterment of our communities.”
The complaint seeks
• A judgment declaring that the false and defamatory statements made by Rivers and the other defendants libeled Duarte.
• An award of damages in an amount to be determined at trial, but not less than the sum of $10 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, as well as interest, costs, disbursements and attorneys’ fees.
“It is unfortunate that these political operatives are distracting from the real issues that we should be focusing on – making Mount Vernon safe for residents and business owners, improving education for our children, and advancing economic development and creating jobs,” Duarte said.
The court papers (see below) assert that Duarte, described as a “passionate, dogged and independent advocate for all residents of Mount Vernon,” has made it clear from the outset of her campaign that “integrity, honesty, and accountability are core values” of the role of government and her campaign for the City Council seat – traits that were not lost on the Democratic Committee.
We contact Mr. Rivers and he said he stands by his words and looks forward to proving them in court, “This is nothing but fake news,” Mount Vernon Exposed publisher, Samuel L. Rivers shares with BW. “I planned to prove through the process of discovery that Reggie is, in fact, sleeping with Janice among other things.”
We reached out to Reginald Lafayette, Mount Vernon Democratic City Committee Chairman, who Mr. Rivers refers to as the “Crime Boss” responsible for “the Costa Nostra style of politics that currently takes place in the City of Mount Vernon”, and he denied the allegation by Mr. Rivers. “There is no truth to this, this is just a big lie trying to damage her [Duarte’s] name as well as mine.”
Stay tuned to Black Westchester for more on this developing story.